In Sputnik’s Orbit

A few thoughts to tide you over…

 

Meet The Winners – Steve Pantazis

Continuing with this years’ Writers of the Future winners, say hello to self described computer geek, Steve Pantazis.

Stuart: Welcome, Steve, and congratulations on your win. Introduce yourself.

Steve: I run a small software firm in Southern California, using my analytical brain during the day to troubleshoot data issues and my creative brain at night to make sweet, sweet prose. My dream is to author fiction full-time, but such an enterprise requires many publishing credits under the belt, lots of content for the masses, and a strong following of readers—something I hope to humbly achieve in the future. Until then, I will be working on getting my first novel published and sorting through lines of software code until my face turns blue.

Stuart: And when you aren’t writing?

Steve: When I’m not penning a tale, I’m cheffing it up in the kitchen, making culinary delights for my better half, who has playfully nicknamed me “Love Chef.”

Stuart: Ha ha. Now that’s a nom-de-plume!

Steve: Yes, she inspires the foodie in me. My friends joke about my postings of food pics on Facebook, wondering how I stay so thin. I tell them it’s portion control. Hah!

Another passion involves the great outdoors. As a person of Greek decent, I embrace the ancient Athenian belief of balancing the body and mind. Hiking, working out, and playing tennis are part of my repertoire, especially here in beautiful, sunny San Diego. For those of you stuck behind the keyboard, I say get out and do something good for your body. Trust me, if you’re a writer, it’s important to get the blood circulating, and not just in your fingertips.

Stuart: Very wise. Sitting at a desk all day is not what humans are built for. What got you into writing, Steve?

Steve: My journey as a writer began when I was eight. It was the year after the original Star Wars movie came out, and I was already inspired by the imagery in the epic space opera when I chanced upon a book fair at my grade school. I remember the books being displayed on foldout tables at the school library, and my allowance money burning a hole in my pocket, eager to be spent. I had no idea what to buy. In fact, I had never bought a book in my life. But there it was: The Hobbit, by J. R. R. Tolkien, sitting on top of a stack of volumes, the cover depicting a painting of the famed Shire from the story. I picked up the softcover novel, leafed through the pages, smelled the wonderful scent of freshly printed pages, and knew I had to have it.

Stuart: Oh man, I remember that smell, and the smell of the floor wax at the town library. It all comes rushing back.

Steve: With my allowance gone, I went to work consuming the book and feeding my imagination. Soon after, I combined the wonder of Star Wars with the fantasy of The Hobbit, and created my first story, a space adventure that took the reader to a number of worlds across the universe. It was then that I knew I was meant to be a writer. I didn’t want to write; I didn’t like to write. I HAD to write!

Stuart: And where do you feed the habit?

Steve: I’m a night owl, so my creativity blossoms after the sun goes down. My preferred writing spot is on the couch these days, with ambient music piping gently through the speakers of my laptop. Before I met my significant other, I was a coffee shop freak, spending many an afternoon and evening sipping specialty coffee while composing my latest story with my headphones on, drowning out the commotion of those around me. I miss going to a coffee shop, but my couch does me wonders. And, of course, my partner says she enjoys my company, which is what really matters.

Stuart: Indeed. How long have you been entering WotF?

Steve: My first entry was for the 25th anniversary of Writers of the Future. I wrote a short story based in the same universe as my winning story for Volume 31, “Switch.” Back then, I thought I had a story that would be irresistible to the judges. Little did I know that my character development was woefully under par. It took a number of entries over the years, and plenty of good reading, to get an idea of what might work. My advice to future contestants is to make sure the reader cares about your protagonist. If you accomplish nothing else, make that happen.

Stuart: Good advice. And this is your first win?

Steve: This is my first contest win, although I have placed in the top five on several Writer’s Digest magazine contests, including their annual Short Story Competition and Popular Fiction Awards.

Stuart: Well that’s nothing to sneeze at. Those contest must attract a gozillion entries each. So do you follow the muse or try to plan things out?

Steve: Plotter, for sure, although I enjoy it when my stories organically take a detour. Seriously though, I feel an author should know the beginning and end to a story, no matter what kind of writer they are. You need to have some notion of the end goal in order to get there. For me, I like to outline a story to form a sense of progression. It doesn’t have to be so detailed that there isn’t any wiggle room for the unexpected, but it still needs to have some shape in order for it fulfill its promise. And fulfilling the promise to the reader is the key, no matter if you plot the story or fly by the seat of your pants.

Stuart: You put that well. Structure, but with wiggle room, room for craft to grow.

So tell me something nutty that you did.

Steve: Joining the military on a whim. I had never considered military service, and then my stepmom said to me one day, “Hey, why don’t you check out the Air Force?” Two weeks later, and I was signed up. The nutty part was lying in my bunk on the first evening of basic training, wondering, “What the heck did I get myself into?” Years later, I look back on my decision as one of the best I ever made. It just goes to show you that doing some things on a whim isn’t always a bad thing.

Stuart: When you were a kid, what was your favorite toy?

Steve: Lego. My grandparents bought me a box of Legos when I was seven. I knew right away that I had a creative side, and Legos let me create in three dimensions. It paved the way for a lot of “idea building” in my life. Funny thing is that I live close to Legoland, and I’ve never been there. Go figure!

Stuart: I used to love all the construction toys, Erector and what not, for that reason.

Tell us about your winning story

Steve: “Switch” was inspired by my novel, Godnet, which introduces the future of the Internet—the Mindnet—where you use a simple neural implant and a good network connection to immerse yourself in a virtual reality world overlaying the real one (think Oculus Rift or Microsoft HoloLens, but on steroids!). In “Switch,” the Mindnet serves as a subplot to the main story, which is about a cop who uses his addiction to a high-tech drug called Switch to catch the kingpin dealer at the center of it all. The story just came to me one day, and I knew I had something special when I finished the last line.

I entered the story into an earlier WotF contest, and received a semi-finalist nod. That prompted me to make it better. My last submission hit gold. The moral of my tale: Don’t give up! If you believe in your story, and it falls short of the mark, retool it, and try again.

Stuart: Well there you go! Any parting advice for those aspiring authors out there?

Steve: Yes. I’ve created a mantra that sums it up perfectly: “Read voraciously and write prolifically.” You have to read regularly to get the mental juices flowing; and you have to write consistently to keep your creativity going. Set aside time to do these things. Even if you have a full-time job, kids, and a loaded-down plate of to-dos, eke out a few moments to follow your passion, and make it part of your daily ritual. After a number of years, you’ll have something to show for your hard work—and you’ll be glad you did!

Stuart: Well I can’t wait to visit the world on “switch”. Thanks, and again, congrats!

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Steve blogs at http://stevepantazis.com/wordpress and you can follow his publishing news at http://www.stevepantazis.com or on Twitter at @pantazis.

Meet The Winners – Michael T. Banker

Continuing in this year’s Writers of the Future series, meet third quarter winner, New York’s Michael T. Banker

Stuart: Welcome Michael, and a big congrats on the win! Tell us about yourself.M. Banker Picture

Michael: I have a lot of imaginary friends whom I occasionally write stories about and this is generally considered to be a respectable use of my time. No one has sat me down yet to express concern over my mental health. I’m grateful to live in an age where that’s possible.

Stuart: Ha Ha! Well put! So how’d you get into writing?

Michael: When I was a kid, my friend told me that he wanted to write a book, to which my response was, “As of five seconds ago I’ve always wanted to write a book, too.” I started to plot out a novel in high school, which was fun and good practice, but I didn’t actually write much. I took a creative writing class here and there. It wasn’t until after college that I figured out that if one wants to be a writer, one needs to actually write!

Stuart: That sounds a lot like my story of how I got into programming. I started out helping a friend on his science fair project. But what made you finally go all-in?

Michael: Why do I do it? It’s mentally and emotionally challenging–and fulfilling. It’s a way of organizing my thoughts about the world and human nature. It’s an opportunity to practice stepping out of my brain and into someone else’s.

Stuart: I can see that. Tell me where you do your writing.

Michael: My favorite place to write is on the subway, in cafes, standing in line. But that’s because if I’m writing in these places, I’m probably really into the story and can’t get enough down.

Stuart: Yeah, I carry my little netbook with me everywhere—you never mind having to wait when you can spend the time writing.

Michael: Usually, though, I just need the quiet of my apartment. I will actually wear ear plugs because I find the sound of my keyboard distracting. I use a Kangaroo, which is a hybrid sitting/standing desk, so I’ll often write standing up.

Stuart: Awesome! A fellow stander! I highly recommend it. And what do you do when you aren’t writing?

Michael: I’m either weirdly creative for an actuary, or weirdly analytical for an artistic type, although I suspect that combination is pretty common for writers. My day job is pricing insurance, running models, building Excel spreadsheets. On weekends I throw pottery, I’m teaching myself how to play piano, I really, really want to get into drawing but haven’t carved out the time to do it properly. I splurged on a Cintiq which is awesome, so…maybe gradually.

Stuart: Yeah, I think you may be right about that. I have writer friends who are into everything from robotics to soap. And I do my own plumbing. I have a leaking irrigation line to repair this weekend. 🙂

How long have you been entering WotF/ is this your first contest win?

Michael: Five years or so. I credit WotF with teaching me how to churn out a story regularly. I’m thrilled to have won on the cusp of pro-ing out, but WotF would have been influential on my career whether or not I ever made it to their fancy gala.

Stuart: That’s a very healthy attitude. I always say I entered for the training and hoped to earn some pro-level feedback. Winning was just a super, super nice bonus.

Micheal: I won one other contest, Albedo One’s “Aeon Award,” and got a very nice check for my efforts. There was no trophy or award ceremony or anything, though, so really it just felt like another sale. WotF is unique like that.

Stuart: Well hey, that’s pretty sweet! That’s a definite for the old CV.

Are you a pantser or a plotter?

Michael: A plotter, so much a plotter. I need to know where I’m aiming, even if I change course mid-stream. There are a tremendous number of interesting details to decide in the moment, as I’m writing (how would my characters really speak and behave, how do I convey this image, transport the reader into my setting, frame this scene to accomplish everything that it needs to, etc., etc.). Plot exists on an entirely separate level, and my brain doesn’t bend both ways at once.

Stuart: I like how you put that. I know a lot of writers chafe at the idea as an assault on the art. I don’t see that. Writing is a craft, and all craft is a blending of engineering and art. Plotting is more the engineering side.

If you had a superpower, what would it be?

Michael: The ability to observe (through a crystal ball, my mind’s eye, whatever) any planet with life on it. Because they’re obviously there. It’s not on the Marvel list of approved superpowers, but I’ll have that, please.

Stuart: Good one! Yeah, that would be very cool, even if it was fairly simple life.

When you were a kid, what was your favorite toy?

Michael: I don’t know, but my earliest memory is playing with a duck — literally just a duck-shaped thing cut out of a block of foam. My mom said I had to go somewhere so I asked if I could bring it with me. So I’m playing with my duck in front of the car window, which cracks open in the back rather than rolling down from the top, and then suddenly it’s out of my hands and I just remember staring out the rear windshield, watching my foam duck bounce away on the pavement behind us and disappear.

Stuart: Oh no! My condolences for your loss—and to whomever may have been hit in the head with the thing! You know, I have one of those also. When I was little, we used to go treasure hunting (fossil and relic hunting) in the South Dakota badlands. I have this memory of sitting on a mountain, playing with my match box cars, and one rolling down the hill. When I was a teenager, I mentioned this memory to my mother, saying how odd that I specifically remember NOT retrieving the car, and why that might be. She said, “It’s probably because you were tied to the tree.”

Yeah. Well, how else do you keep a rambunctious three year old from falling over the nearest cliff, right?

Stuart: If you adopted a unique wardrobe tag (ala Dr. Who’s scarf/bowtie etc.), what might it be?

Michael: I call my look, Things I Found Strewn Across My Floor to Cover My Nakedness. I’m pretty happy with it.

Stuart: Very practical. Um…wear a tux, though, you know, for the gala.

Tell us about your winning story

Michael: I originally submitted this story in 2011 to K.D. Wentworth, who gave it an honorable mention. I’m sure I’ve edited it since then, and of course I sent it to a number of markets in between. I submitted it again because the story I wanted to submit for Q3 wasn’t quite ready and I didn’t want to rush it. It feels a little weird, like me from four years ago won the contest, but it goes to show that you shouldn’t self reject. Sometimes the right story and the right editor just need to match up.

Stuart: Very true. A lot of people don’t get that.

Micheal: This story isn’t very representative of most of what I write. It has a little more of a light-hearted/YA feel. But I did have fun writing it. Occasionally I write a story that reminds me that I need to have fun. There are a lot of ways I’d described writing, but fun isn’t usually one of them.

Stuart: Well I can’t wait to read it, and your other work. Thanks for stopping by and again, congratulations!

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Check out Micheal’s work at Daily Science Fiction, Flash Fiction Online, and Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, among others.

Meet the Winners – Sharon Joss

Scifi for the WIN!

Starting the new week, say hello to Writers of the Future winner, Sharon Joss!

Stuart: Hi Sharon, and congratulations! Tell us who about yourself.

Sharon: I started out in the aerospace industry as an operating systems programmer, working on real-time systems for the space shuttle Columbia. Over the years I gradually moved into the high tech industry as a Technical Program Manager, integrating hardware and software for digital presses in the publishing industry. I’d always wanted to be a writer, but never felt like it was a ‘real’ job. All that changed in 2009, when I got laid off and decided to pursue writing as my full-time career.

Stuart: Wow! I love the eclectic career path. As you’ll earn in April, L Ron Hubbard used to take jobs just for the experience so he could write about them—at least, that’s what he claimed. So you always wanted to write; where’d that drive come from?

Sharon: My dad used to read to us kids at the dinner table after the dishes were cleared on Sunday nights– Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling. For years, I thought my dad had actually written those stories, and I wanted to be a storyteller, just like him (he was actually a college biology professor). I also loved Jack London’s Call of the Wild and White Fang. Then I discovered Lloyd Alexander, Ray Bradbury and Andre Norton, and I was forever hooked on adventure and speculative fiction.

Stuart: Awesome! I’ve always said my mom’s stories reminded me of Steinbeck, except her stories were real life and it was the other way around. So now that you’re wriiting, what’s your “writer’s cave?”

Sharon: I’ve got my writing desk set up at the top of the stairs. The landing is relatively spacious, and there’s a big window and great light, but nothing in the view that will distract me from writing. My desk is basically a door laid across two file cabinets, but I’m surrounded by bookcases, and there’s a really nice chair that the dog sleeps in while I’m working. I’ve got a couple of nice framed posters on the wall (one with a phoenix, the other a dragon), and post its on nearly every surface. My sister calls it ‘the command center’, and I suppose it is.

Stuart: Nice. I especially like the repurposed door. When I was a kid, my dad had this huge, really heavy duty workbench in his shop which was like no other. It wasn’t until I was grown that I realized it was just two by eights nailed across two chests of drawers. It was super solid and did the job. Do you have any unusual talents or hobbies?

Sharon: I’ve trained dogs for years; and competed with my Australian Shepherds in obedience, agility, and rally events. I also owned a sailboat for several years when I lived in California, and have sailed to Catalina many times.

Stuart: Sweet! I has a mini-Aussie, and though I don’t put the time in that I should, I’ve found training her is the secret to keeping her happy. Working dogs gotta work, writers gotta write, eh?

How long have you been entering WotF/ is this your first contest win?

Sharon: I submitted my first entry to WOTF in December 2012, after hearing about the contest in a Dave Farland editing class. Before my winning story, I’d submitted five stories, two of which earned Honorable Mentions. I’ve never won a writing contest before.

Stuart: Very nice! So are you a pantser or a plotter?

Sharon: I’m a major (and highly detailed) plotter for long fiction, although my short fiction outline is basically just a few sentences.

Stuart: Yeah, that’s as me. I find it’s at that outlining stage that the short story ideas sort themselves out from the novel ideas. So, if you had a superpower, what would it be?

Sharon: The ability to communicate with animals (and other non-humans). Or flying–flying would be cool.

Stuart: Flying would be awesome. I think I can already read my dog’s minds though. Especially the terrier. He’s pretty assertive. 😉

When you were a kid, what was your favorite toy?

Sharon: Although I think they’s pretty creepy now, when I was a kid, I loved hand puppets and marionettes. And Mr. Potato Head.

Stuart: Hand puppets? Creepy? You should search YouTube for the Scottish Sock Puppet theater. That’ll either cure or confirm that view.

Thanks Sharon! It’s been great, and I can’t wait to see you walking across the stage!

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Follow Sharon at www.sharonjoss.com or on Twitter at @josswrites

 

A Galaxy of Talent

cheiftain

I am elated to share the news that my story, “Luck of the Chieftain’s Arrow,” will appear in Galaxy’s Edge issue #14 alongside stories by Alan Dean Foster, Larry Niven, Nancy Kress, Greg Benford, Robert Heinlein & more.

Yeah.

This stellar lineup is a testament to the work that Mike Resnick and his editorial partners are doing, and a reminder to me to keep up my efforts.

It’s a real, real, honor to be in this company.

Finn Fancy Necromancy

Randy Henderson has hit the proverbial toboggan out of the wallrus park with this one, and that takes some doing as you might imagine.

I bought this book because I know Randy. I finished it because it’s good. Really good. He’s written a sassy main character who’s a little bit retro, a little bit lost puppy, and a little bit superhero sunflower waiting to bloom. Finn’s a teenager who’s just about to confess his first love when who gets framed for dark magic and sent into spirit exile. On the day of release, he’s attacked and dumped back in his body with no memory of the last 25 years. The girl friend has grown up. So has the family and the girl next door. Disco is dead, and so will he be if he can’t find out who framed him and why, and stop them before they kill off his family, send him back into exile, and maybe start a war.

Randy’s prose is fresh and jaunty, his world building nuanced but lean. The world he creates is funny, what with the inter-garden gnome transport system and Sasquatch buffoonery, but it’s also convincingly real and menacing. He lays out his characters masterfully, then elevates the stakes and momentum in a smooth ride to crescendo. Oh, and you’ll never guess who dunnit.

Read this book. You’ll love it. It will make you laugh. It will make you smile. It will make you a tiny bit wistful about the 80’s and the Washington coast, even if you’ve never seen either of them. And it may or may not make you cry. I’m not telling.

 
Buy it at Amazon

Meet the Winners — Amy Hughes

When I won Writers of the Future last year, I interviewed my fellow winners in the weeks leading up to the workshop and it was so fun and such a nice introduction, I decided to do it again! So continuing with our Meet The Winners series, this week, come get acquainted with a writer you are sure to here more of in years to come, brand new Writers of the Future winner, Amy Hughes.

Stuart: Welcome Amy, and congratulations on your win. Why don’t you tell us a little about yourself?

Amy: In the past 17 years I’ve lived in Nevada, Arizona, Ontario Canada, Colorado, California and Utah. We move a lot. This summer we’ll be moving overseas to Saudi Arabia. Screenshot from 2015-03-08 20:31:44

I love to write, I’ve been writing since I can remember being old enough to hold a pencil. I loved to read. In high school I was the shy, quiet kid who spent the lunch hour hiding under the stairs reading fantasy novels so I wouldn’t have to actually speak to anyone. Because Orcs were cool. Talking was scary.

Talking is less scary to me now. I still think Orcs are cool.

Stuart: Empirically, Orcs are cool. It’s the deathly pallor, I believe. So what got you into writing, Amy?

Amy: I’ve been writing all my life. I have a series of stories from second grade about a magical bunny rabbit named ‘Tricksy’, who could fly and grant wishes. They’re illustrated and everything.

Stuart: That’s awesome! The only thing I remember from second grade is this girl who moved to our little town from the exotic land of Alaska, and making a paper-mache turkey. Where do you do your writing?

Amy: My writing space travels, actually. I write on a laptop, which in theory means I can take my writing space with me wherever I go. I have two very active little boys though, so most of the time, if we go somewhere, I’m wrangling, not writing. But I do find that my writing space floats around the house quite a bit. I have an office space set up with books lining every wall and an herbal apothecary in the closet. I have postcards from all the places I’ve been tacked up all over. But I tend to get distracted fairly easily, and once I’ve gotten too distracted in a space, it gets hard for me to treat it like a place where I can just sit down and write. So I migrate around the house. I’m currently writing at the kitchen table. It has good light and a view of our chicken coop. Before that, it was the couch in the living room, before that it was my bed. Eventually I’ll make it back around to the office. I usually do.

Stuart: Ha ha. Really following the muse, eh? I write on netbooks for the same reason—and to utilize the bits of free time that would otherwise be wasted in transit and waiting lines. I remember writing most of my winning Writers of the Future story in the car on the way to and from Galveston, in fact.

So tell me, do you have any talents or hobbies?

Amy: I knit, bake artisan bread, garden, dabble in herbal medicine, homemade soaps and lotions and I can do one heck of a turkey gobble imitation.

Stuart: Hey, Megsn O’Keefe, WotF winner from my year is a soap maker too. You guys should chat. I should warn you, though, turkey calls are best avoided in the Lowes hotel where the winners are put up. It attracts SpoungeBob SquarePants imitators in from Hollywood Boulevard. No one knows why.

How long have you been entering WotF?

Amy: Actually, I only ever entered the contest once. I’ve known about the contest for years and always intended to enter, but I’ve been busy raising kids for the past while. About two years ago, I realized the youngest was finally approaching kindergarten age and I was going to be able to start writing again. It was time to enter. I tried writing a few short stories and failed miserably. My own mother couldn’t have found anything nice to say about these stories. So I started studying short stories intensively. I read nothing but short stories for over a year and must have burned through a couple hundred before something in my head clicked and I finally started understanding how a short story was built. I wrote ‘The Graver’ and went through a massive number of edits trying to get it right. I was shocked when I won. I honestly thought I was going to spend the next couple years entering, so I’m feeling sort of unprepared now. This all happened faster than I thought it would.

Stuart: Very impressive! And smart. I always tell folks, study the form and the market and you’ll have better results.

Star Trek or Star Wars?

Amy: Star Wars hands down!

Stuart: “These are not the droids you are looking for.” “Yes they are, Look at’em!”

Pantser or Plotter?

Amy: Panster all the way. Though I have recently figured out how to outline very short distances ahead of myself. It’s helping. But I honestly can’t see far enough ahead in the story to ever really outline.

Stuart: You and I can grow together. I am still trying to mash my brain into a productive instrument of composition. Some days are better than others.

Tell me, what’s the nuttiest thing that ever happened to you?

Amy: I crashed in a hot air balloon.

The wind pushed us the wrong direction and we were about to cross over an amusement park. That’s federally restricted airspace.

The pilot thought he’d found a nice city park to land in, but it turned out to be a fully fenced golf course and they couldn’t get the support vehicle in. The baskets are too heavy to lift without the trailer close by. He had to try to pop us back up and over the trees around the golf course. We scraped our way through the top branches. I actually grabbed a handful of leaves on our way up.

He decided he was going to have to set down in a neighborhood. His wife jumped out of the support vehicle to grab the rope. We nearly drifted into someone’s house. She wasn’t big enough to control the balloon in such a tight space and we dragged her quite a ways before our pilot started yelling at the neighborhood residents to jump in and help. Several people got on the line and brought the balloon more or less under control. All the while, we were drifting closer and closer to the cross street, and the dead end row of houses along it.

When the basket finally touched down, we hopped and skidded and the basket turned over, dumping us out onto the pavement. It was a very rough landing. Our pilot was a whole lot more worried than he’d let on. Someone had broken a collarbone and ended up in the hospital on a similar landing in his balloon a few years earlier. We were lucky to have been merely jostled.

But it turned out to be a local resident’s birthday and he got to spend the morning taking down a hot air balloon in his pajama’s. And for the rest of my life I get to tell people that I crashed in a hot air balloon. So I’m pretty happy with the way things turned out.

Stuart: Wow! Amusement parks are restricted airspace. Hold on while I note that in my checklist of world domination tips…..

If you had a superpower, what would it be?

Amy: The ability to freeze time. That way I could take a nap, clean my house, fold my laundry and still have time to get my writing done. Plus, I could mess with people without them ever knowing I was there. That’d be cool.

Stuart: Okay, the judges tell me that technically, as described, that is the same power as “super speed” so when you get the chance, be looking for either on the application. And make sure I get an application, will ya?

When you were a kid, what was your favorite toy?

Amy: My brother’s truck. It was an old metal truck that I finger-knitted a leash for. I used to drag that thing around with me everywhere. My mom kept trying to get me interested in Barbie’s and Cabbage Patch dolls, but I never could get into them. The truck was useful and nobody cared if it got covered in mud.

Stuart: Ha ha! I’m just picturing a little girl out walking her truck. For a moment I thought you meant a real truck. My mother taught school and had a third grader steal a school bus once, but you could never get a leash on one of those.

What would your distinctive wardrobe tag be, if you dared adopt it?

Amy: If I dared, it would probably be a cloak. I love the way a hood looks. Plus, it’s useful. It keeps off the rain, hides your face from the bad guys, and you can sleep in it if you happen to spend the night under a tree.

Stuart: Cloaks are cool. I have worn a cloak. I have been told I have ligth footstep…

Tell us about your winning story.

Amy: My story is ‘The Graver’.

It’s set in world where people have discovered a way to harvest and reabsorb the energy of the human soul after death. This can be used for everything from curing cancer and extending life, to just getting a really great high. Daniel allowed his wife’s soul to be harvested to use her memories to catch the man who killed her, but he’s not sure if in doing so, he destroyed her soul forever. He’s taken his daughter to a family ranch in an effort to escape his past and keep his daughter safe. But the past will always catch up, and nowhere is ever really safe.

Stuart: Sounds amazing! Well thanks Amy! And enjoy your time in Hollywood!

Amy: Thanks Stuart!

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If Amy crashed any more heavier than air craft, you can read about the casualties at amybrandonhughes.blogspot.com.

 

Writers of The Future Winner, Auston Habershaw

Joining us this time, Writers of the Future first quarter winner, Auston Habershaw. Here we go!

Stuart: Auston, it’s great to meet you. Introduce yourself.

Auston: Let’s see, where to start with me? I’m a science fiction and fantasy writer (though really more fantasy thanAustinHabershaw scifi of late) who lives in Boston. Though I have had a wide array of jobs during my life, for the past eight years or so I have been an English Professor at MCPHS University. The school is focused around preparing students for the Health Sciences, so basically I try to teach all these science-focused students how to write essays and analyze literature. The rest of my time I write.

Stuart: So what got you into writing?

Auston: I can’t quite remember a time I wasn’t into writing. I’ve always, always wanted to tell stories. The only question was what kind of stories and in what form would I tell them. When I was in first or second grade, we were asked to write a paragraph. I wrote a paragraph that went on for a page and a half (it was a single paragraph, just long one). My teacher tried to give me a “C” for going past one page. After my mother tore the teacher’s head off, I remember being told specifically not to write more than a page. Naturally, then, I made my handwriting smaller. Then I got a D for Handwriting. I couldn’t quite understand why my teacher wanted me to stop writing so badly when I had more things to say. Basically, ever since I learned how, I’ve been writing something.

Stuart: Describe your “writer’s cave” your preferred writing location

Auston: I write at my desk either at work or at my home. In both locations, the desk is cluttered with books and papers and stuff. Right now at work I have 65 index cards stuck on the wall depicting every scene in my latest novel, which is in late-stage revision. Wherever I write, it needs to be in absolute silence. No music, no real white noise–nothing. I need the quiet to “hear” the words I’m writing, if that makes sense to you.

Stuart: Makes perfect sense. I’m the same way. So how long have you been entering WotF/ is this your first contest win?

Auston: I entered WoTF once in the 90s, when I was in college. I didn’t really enter again until 2008-ish, and then I entered about once a year since then with the exception of the past year or so, where I entered more often. I’ve probably entered ten times overall. I netted 1 Honorable Mention, 2 Semifinalists, and 1 Finalist before my the win. This was really exciting, since I was set to pro-out next year. My debut novel, The Iron Ring, just released on February 10th.

Stuart: Well that’s fantastic! And congrats on the book! What’s the nuttiest thing that ever happened to you?

Auston: I used to work as a minion for a slumlord who operated a shady bed-and-breakfast in Boston. One of my jobs was to get fresh towels for guests who requested them.What the guests did not know was that the towels were kept in the unfinished basement of a nearby building. During the day, said basement was the domain of a trio of sullen Guatemalan ladies who spoke no English. During the night, when most of the towel requests came in, the basement was the domain of rats. Lots of rats. Big, ugly, black or brown Norwegian rats with no fear of human beings. So, my process for securing the towels was to turn on the lights and yell, then do battle for possession of towels. I took the towels from the middle of the stack so as to guarantee no rats had slept upon them. To my knowledge, no patron contracted the Plague, so my conscience is (mostly) clean.

Stuart: Oh my gosh! Well a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do. Tell us about your winning story

Auston: “A Revolutionary’s Guide to Practical Conjuration” is a fantasy story about an angry young man living in the ruins of a city ravaged by war and in the midst of a long reconstruction. It’s a story about the haves and have-nots and about how foreign interference (even if well-meaning) can often be resented by the native poor who don’t see any progress or hope for the future. It is set in the same world as my novel, The Iron Ring.

Stuart: Sounds cool. Tell us more about the book..

Auston: The Iron Ring is about Tyvian Reldamar–smuggler, criminal mastermind, and rogue–who is betrayed by his longtime partner and left for dead in a freezing river. The catch is this: his mysterious rescuer affixes a magical ring to his hand that keeps him from doing evil. This means Tyvian needs to find a way to get revenge without doing anything bad, which poses something of a challenge. This is the first part of an epic fantasy adventure called The Saga of the Redeemed which will track Tyvian’s (potential) redemption from vain, selfish, arrogant bastard to just a regular old bastard. The Iron Ring is out now, Blood And Iron (part 2) will be out in June, and the third installment will be out in the fall, all through Harper Voyager Impulse.

Some of the inspiration for the character and the books themselves comes, oddly enough, from Ian Flemming and James Bond. I consider Tyvian something of a Bond-esque character in a high-magic fantasy setting, so if that appeals to you at all, you will probably love the books. It is currently only available electronically, so you can find it on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Stuart: Sounds awesome! Bond in a magical realm. I can’t wait to check it out. Well thanks for dropping by Auston. The books and the story sound intriguing, and I can’t wait to see you up on stage in April!

Auston: Thanks so much!

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Find out more about Auston at aahabershaw.wordpress.com.

His novel, The Iron Ring, is available here, at Amazon.com.

 

The Old Sodium in the Toilet Prank — It’s Not What We Thought At All

A scientist of my acquaintance, in a paper just published in Nature Chemistry, has overturned a century’s work on the well-studied interaction of water and alkali metals. That’s right, there’s a whole lot more to the old sodium in the toilet trick than anyone suspected, and the science could save lives. And the best part? It all started out as a YouTube video.

For generations, students have been taught that alaklai metals (Lithium, Sodium, Potassium, Rubidium, Cesium, and Francium), in reaction with water, release hydrogen and heat, which causes an explosion. Of course, many (including myself) have noted that the amount of hydrogen involved could not possibly cause the observed reaction. Others have invoked a “fuel-coolant interaction” in which a molten metal dropped into water causes an explosion essentially driven by steam. But again, those of us who have tried this, know it simply doesn’t hold water, as it were.

Now, Phillip Mason and his team at the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, in collaboration with a team at the Institute of Physical and Theoretical Chemistry, Braunschweig, Germany, have shown this all to be rubbish. Mason’s interest was peaked a few years ago when he made what he thought would be a simple and fun YouTube video illustrating the hackneyed “sodium and water go boom” trick using a $300 high speed camera. What he found, though, were colors and behaviors incompatible with established dogma. He dug, conducting a series of ever more elaborate experiments in his back yard, at his lab, and in the high deserts of the American west. Finally, he had a hypothesis compelling enough to recruit his professional colleagues at two institutes and secure the use of a $100,000 femptosecond high speed camera.

In the end, they demonstrated that the classic reaction is a “coulombic explosion” in which dissasociated electrons soluted into water create an electric field strong enough to rip the metal apart, thereby causing a classic explosive chain reaction. In the accomanying image, you can actually see spikes of sodium being yanked out into the water–not by an explosion within, but by electric charge from without. If this seems odd, remember that the electromagnetic force is astronomically stronger than gravity, and all the devices of modern society, from xray machines to mag-lev trains rely on quite minuscule electric fields.

Why is this important? One confirmation of the coulombic explosion hypothesis came in the form of a predicted antidote to the explosion. Mix a tiny amount of surfactant into the water, and the explosion is stopped cold. This new realization could save hundreds of lives each year, and prevent millions of dollars in damage, by giving foundries the tools to finally eliminate industrial explosions that have always been something of a mystery. In addition, quantum modeling suggests that during the explosion of one liter of sodium, the charge imbalance would be on the order of five billion amps. The ability to trigger such a massive release of electric power, even for a tiny fraction of a second, will surely have commercial applications, such as, oh, I don’t know, starting a fusion reactor?

This is science as good as it gets.

http://www.nature.com/nchem/journal/v7/n3/full/nchem.2161.html

http://www.nature.com/news/sodium-s-explosive-secrets-revealed-1.16771

Writers of the Future – Meet Tim Napper

Continuing our “Meet the Winners” series, this week, meet Tim Napper, an aid worker, stay-at-home dad, and now Writers of the Future winner.

Stuart: Hi Tim, so how’d you get started writing?

Tim: Timing and opportunity. While I’d written non-fiction for some years, I was deeply committed to my profession as an aid worker, and as such the thought of pursuing a career outside of it never really occurred to me. What would I dream of other jobs when I was already working in what I felt was my calling?

But I took a break from the work two years ago, partly because I was exhausted by it, but mainly because my wife wanted to get back to her career after giving birth to our son – and I very much wanted to take care of him.

I’m a voracious reader, love science fiction and love writing, so I resolved try my hand at writing fiction and produce as much as I could while we lived in Vietnam where my wife has a job for three years.
Stuart: Describe your “writer’s cave” your preferred writing location.

Tim: I have a great cave. Some Vietnamese art on the walls, plus a large mineral map of Australia (which I’m using for a novel), plus my framed WotF prize money, a glowing review of one of my stories by Locus Magazine, plus two of the walls plastered with my short stories. I find the final edit of a story easier when it’s stuck up on a wall, perhaps because of seeing the spatial relationship between the various parts of the story; being able at a glance to see how it all fits together.
Stuart: That sounds amazing! How long have you been entering WotF. Is this your first contest win?

Tim: I entered WotF four times I think: 2 rejections, 1 Honourable Mention and then the win. The winning short story was the fifth I’d written ever, so no, no other wins. I’d had a couple of token sales beforehand, but that was it. To say I was surprised would be an understatement. I adamantly refused to believe I’d won, first arguing with Joni that she’d made a mistake, then for two or three months assuming that the organisers had made a terrible mistake and confused my story with another’s.
I’ve subsequently had two sales to Interzone, and one to an Australian publication (Grimdark) that pays pro rates. This has made me start to think that perhaps the WotF win wasn’t a huge administrative blunder after all.

Stuart: That’s great! Well congratulations! Okay, Star Trek or Star Wars?

Tim: Put it this way: I have a tailor-made Star Trek Deep Space Nine costume as does my 3 year old son. Sometimes we wear them around the house while mum is at work.
Stuart: Well why not? I mean, when ISN”T the right time for for cosplay? If you had a superpower, what would it be?

Tim: The power to make people believe in and respond constructively to scientific evidence, no matter what their ideology.

Stuart: You and I will work on that one.

Tim: Either that or Hulk-like strength.

Stuart: Tell us about your winning story

Tim: Near future noir set in Sydney’s criminal underbelly.

Stuart: Nice. Well that sounds very intriguing. I can’t wait to read it, and see you all up on stage in April.

=======================================================================

Learn more about Tim at http://www.nappertime.com. There’s a lot to learn. He’s done a lot and written a lot, not all of it science fiction.
While you’re poking around the Interwebs, be sure to check out  my subscription page and I’ll send you a signed e-edition of my winning story from last year.

Write What You Know: Humanity

Writer, Ada Hoffman recently got some press for a series of tweets about writing strong female characters by giving them “agency,” in which she says “Agency is not about characters being good or bad characters, it is about what the characters are given the opportunity to do.”

http://io9.com/this-twitter-rant-might-change-how-you-think-about-fema-1686324225

Yeah, sure. I’ll go along with that. Look, characters are written to serve all kinds of literary needs. The most important, in my opinion, are to entertain and evoke thought about the human condition. Women (or men) who fumble through scenes tripping over rocks and having to be helped along are not very interesting, though every archetype has it’s place. But I was stunned, recently, when a fellow writer and self-professed feminist declared, “You want to know how NOT to write female characters, just look at Sarah on the TV show Chuck.”

Really? A tough as nails, sexy woman who uses every asset at her disposal to overcome crushing oppression, then wrestles with moral, professional, and personal balance as she tries to grow as a spy, a woman, and a contributor to human society? Oh well, of course not. Why would we want more characters like that? I am a feminist, big time, if that means women should not be treated like chattel, but they should still be allowed to be women in the process.

Meg Ryan made a film called Courage Under Fire in which she played a soldier whose helicopter crashes, and while issuing orders to male subordinates, stops to say “What are you looking at? It’s just tears. It doesn’t mean anything.” Now, if you interpret that to mean girls are cry-babies who shouldn’t be in combat, you are wrong. But if you interpret it to mean the screenwriter was deluded by stereotypes, you are equally wrong. The reason I remember it is, my wife was in the army when we met, and she told me about occasions when she or others would cry under stress, and how the men freaked out about it.

But I’ll tell you something. My wife has an expert marksman medal and a wall full of commendations, and when she was in, she could run just as far and do twice as many pushups as required for the men. Only the rangers beat her at orienteering, and during field exercises, after she ordered a prisoner shot for repeatedly trying to signal her squad’s position (which makes him a combatant under rules of engagement), a grizzled gulf war vet (who had seen her tears on at least on occasion) shook her hand in front of all the drills and said he’d serve with her any day. So would I.

Which is a long-winded way of saying, women are more complicated than stereotypes, because women are people, and people are complicated. And women are more complicated than the anti-stereotype archetypes that some want to advance, which are in themselves, just stereotypes.

Now, I can’t ever know what it means to live a particular woman’s life. So what? My wife can’t know what it means to live my sister’s life. But I can write characters that speak to both, to all of us, and that’s often what I try to do. We each face unique challenges and hurdles, and what one woman or man may brush off as par for the course, may be a crippling obstacle to another.

When I write a female character, often as not, I just envision her that way, and that mental image has as much to do with personality, wit, style, and logical position within the universe at hand, as it does with overt, contemporary themes of gender identity, procreation, and career-life balance. Unless that’s what the story is about.

Which brings me back to Ada’s point. Stories are not, generally, about getting characters right, so much as about putting them in interesting circumstances. Almost all literary characters are exaggerations of real life, and that’s okay. That’s what enables them to react to the plot in an evocative, memorable, even riveting way. That’s what enables them to tell us about ourselves.

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